Spicing Up the Holidays

December 1, 2009

By johnmac

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Spices add incredible richness, flavour and sometimes colour to our food.  While recent research is uncovering the numerous health benefits of various spices, many cultures around the world have used spices for their numerous healing properties for thousands of years.

This month, I would like to share a few of the health benefits of a combination of spices that reminds me of Christmas time, even though I love to use them all year long.  I’m also sharing one of my favourite cookie recipes that incorporates these wonderful spices!

Cinnamon

This spice is one of the oldest around and has been used in botanical medicine since 2,700 BC. Known especially for its warming properties, cinnamon contains many phytonutrients which provide the following health benefits:

  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Prevents blood platelet clumping which is beneficial for cardiovascular health
    • Prevents the growth of bacteria, including the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers (H. pylori)
    • Prevents the growth of fungus, including Candida (yeast infections)
    • Promotes blood sugar regulation.  Recent research has shown that consuming as little as 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day assists in blood sugar regulation (by helping with insulin sensitivity) and also lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

    You can add ground cinnamon to just about anything – cereals, yogurt, stews, soups, baking and more.  One of my favourite ‘treats’ is simply mashing up a baked yam with a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil and then generously sprinkling cinnamon on top.  Delicious!  I also enjoy adding a stick of cinnamon bark to many herbal teas as they steep.

    Ginger

    Ginger has many health benefits, with the most common relating to digestive issues.  Whether in dried ground or fresh root form, ginger’s health benefits include:

    • Calms gastrointestinal problems such as upset stomach, nausea and flatulence
    • Anti-inflammatory properties
    • Anti-cancer properties
    • Boosts immune function

    Just like cinnamon, ground or fresh ginger can be added to so many things.  Sautee it with onions to make a delicious base for stir-fries, curries and soups – I really enjoy it in squash, pumpkin, yam or carrot soups.  Try a fresh ginger root tea with a touch of honey and fresh lemon.  Simply bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root (peeled and cut into thin slices), reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, strain and enjoy.  This is a great tea for settling the stomach as well as relieving cold and flu symptoms.

    Cloves

    Many of this spice’s health benefits are due to a substance called eugenol.  Potential health benefits associated with cloves include:

    • Detoxifying/cleansing properties
    • Anti-inflammatory properties
    • Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic properties
    • Mild anaesthetic properties, most commonly related to relieving pain associated with toothaches

    Most of my cooking experience with cloves has been in baking and curries, but you can experiment with it in other dishes, starting with just a sprinkle as this spice does have a very strong flavour.

    While this next bit of information is getting off the topic of spices, I wanted to mention it now since most people I know are doing considerably more baking at this time of year than usual.

    Coconut flour

    Coconut flour is a healthy and delicious substitute for some or all of the flour in your baking.  It offers many important health benefits including:

    • High in dietary fibre compared with gluten-based flours.  Coconut flour has 58% dietary fibre compared with 27% for wheat bran.  1/4 cup of coconut flour has approximately 14 grams of fibre
    • Fewer digestible carbohydrates compared with other flours, so it can help with calorie reduction/weight loss
    • Gluten-free
    • Lower glycemic index compared with other flours

    The amount of flour in a recipe that can be substituted with coconut flour depends on what you’re making.  It may take a bit of experimenting to get it just right, but you will usually get good results by substituting up to 1/3 of the flour in the recipe with coconut flour.  I have never tried this before, but I have read that you can use 100% coconut flour in a recipe if you add one egg per approximately every 30 grams of coconut flour. Coconut flour also contains natural sugar, so the added bonus to adding some to your recipe is that you can add less sugar.

    And now to share a little bit of holiday baking decadence with you, using all of the above information!

    Hermit Cookie Recipe (makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies)

    Ingredients (use organic whenever possible):

    • 3/4 cup soft, unsalted butter
    • 1/4 cup coconut oil
    • 1 to 1.5 cups brown sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 3 cups flour (if you have coconut flour, recall the substitution guidelines)
    • 1 tsp each of baking soda and baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp ground sea salt
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp ground all spice
    • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
    • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
    • 2/3 cup chopped dates
    • 2/3 cup toasted, slivered almonds
    • 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (Try Cocoa Camino chocolate chips, available at most health food stores.  They are organic and fair trade certified and contain at least 50% cocoa)

    Directions

    • Preheat oven to 375F
    • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
    • Beat in eggs, one at a time, until light and fluffy
    • Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices together and then mix into the butter/sugar/egg mixture
    • Mix in dates, almonds and chocolate chips

    Drop the cookie batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (about 1 tbsp batter per cookie, spaced approximately 1.5 inches apart).  Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until bottom is just golden.

    Finally, if you are still looking for Christmas gifts, here are a couple of ideas:

    • BioPro cell phone chips are on sale for $40 (reg $45) until the end of December 2009, or until quantities last.  You can purchase them at both my east and west end locations.  Even Dr. Oz has finally discussed this issue on his show:  http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/link-between-cell-phones-and-cancer.  To learn more about the BioPro cell chip, visit:http://www.mybiopro.com/BioProTemplate.aspx?ItemID=1450&ID=prhealth
    • Gift certificates are available for all of my services.  A relaxing and rejuvenating foot reflexology treatment is a wonderful gift at any time of year.  If you would like to purchase a gift certificate please email me at avarriano@rogers.com.

    I wish you all a joyful Christmas and Holiday Season.

    Enjoy!

    References

    1. http://www.mercola.com/products/coconut_flour.htm
    2. http://www.drdavidwilliams.com/MainSite/HealthCenter.aspx?Healthcenter=WALT_HC%20Blood%20Sugar
    3. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=68
    4. http://www.tropicaltraditions.com/organic_coconut_flour.htm
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